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OKAPI interview (English)

OKAPI interview in English.


1.      Your unique works mostly sprout from two ways: one of them is the possibilities of art (lines, reflections, mobility, and so on); and the other is to capture with stunning sensibility about the joy of an individual when she or he interacts with Nature or various environments. This is to say that, when examining your works, you are more an “artist” than an “author of children’s books”. Please share with us about how you see and define your identity in the artistic realm and the possibilities of your career?

- “Alice in Wonderland” was the first book that I created from beginning to end by myself. Alice book was my MA Book Arts project during my study in London. I didn’t think about any general rules of publishing or target readers of the Alice book and I only concentrated what I’d like to explore under the theme of Book Arts. 

I brought my simple dummy book of “Alice in Wonderland” to Bologna Children’s Book Fair for fun (without having any knowledge what kind of place it was). I happened to meet the Italian publisher Corraini and showed my dummy to them. They liked it and they published it a year after. 

Corraini didn’t ask anything to revise and published it just as it was. I found that very intriguing. Their attitude seemed to me like, “we respect the artist’s decision” (that means if the work has flaws, it’s solely the artist’s responsibility, too.) I was young and novice in the field but I felt  fairly encouraged. I realized I was  a “picture book artist” and none other. Once you define yourself as an “artist”, you have a wider playground that you can wander about. I’m always drawn by the subject matters of element of art, and in the center of my art, there are lively children.  


2.      From your MA graduation work Alice to the book you’re currently working on, the media you use seems to be going to the simpler spectrum (from collage and photography to free lines). I realize that you change your media by the subject and needs of different books. Still, do you set different goals upon different stages of your creative projects?

- One of the attractive points of the picture book is that you are free from the concept of “consistency”- well, you might find that my works look all similar after all, but at least I feel every project I’ve done is different. I use charcoal for this project not because I love charcoal or I am good at using charcoal, but because I felt  this project needs the lines of charcoal. As the shapes of the books are all different depends on the projects, I believe the art materials and style should be different too. The recent project I finished was about the song titled “Dream of Being Water” - the lyric is about the circulation of water and life. I use blue watercolor wash throughout the pages and the shape of the book is a long accordion fold; every image of water is connected to each other as one whole image as water flows.  Every project gives me a new challenge and I found it difficult but always fun! 


3.      Your works are deeply loved by varied readers all over the world. Everyone can find different meanings in your pictures. It’s like you are creating for your inner child, since you are having conversation with a different you via different books. Do you think there exist any repeating motifs or images in your works, like the way Paul Cezanne paints Mont Sainte-Victoire over and over again?

- The girl in a sleeveless dress in “Alice in wonderland” is actually myself when I was about 6 years old. I think I loved that skirt very much since I have a few photos wearing the same one (or I don’t have many dress but one). And she appeared in Mirror, Wave and Shadow too. They’re not necessarily the same person, but they share common characters--curiosity, bravery and endless energy of a child. I didn’t mean I was like that, but that’s the qualities that I’d like to keep. I love the genre of picture books because it is facing and talking to children. 


4.      “Wave” is dedicated to “my new-born baby Sahn”. This book is really an amazing work, bringing alive the wonder and joy Nature gives people to the full extent. We literally feel enormous affection you’d like to express to your child about this magical world. Do you have new understanding for the meaning of life after you have your own children and watch them grow up day by day? Are your children your best readers and critics?

- I finished the final arts for WAVE book just one week before birth of my first child. (I couldn’t properly  see my drawing because of my big belly really!)  So I dedicated that book to my baby, Sahn. People usually think Sahn was the girl in the book, but actually Sahn is a boy (And the Korean name Sahn means mountain--山). It is true that if you have your own child, your understanding of children gets better. But I don’t think it’s necessary -the concept of WAVE was formed before my baby was born. I love the children as they are- I feel happy when I draw their innate energy and liveliness. They’re all in us and we can observe our inner child in our heart. 

I have two kids and they’re certainly the great critics and wonderful  readers of my books, but they have their own tastes and they always emphasize that. :) 


5.      You have lived in different countries and cities for the sake of studying and working. What do you think about the issue of cultural differences? And how do your experiences of living in different cities and the cultural tradition of your homeland contribute inspirations and nutrients to your works?

- The first exhibition I went when I studied in London was the retrospective exhibition of Lewis Carroll at the British Library. That made me re-read the Alice Book as a grown-up reader and it became an important starting point of my work. “Alice in Wonderland” was interesting reference but in a sense, it appealed to me  in the other way too--I felt I was some kind of “Alice” in wonder-London at that time. People spoke language that I couldn’t fully understand and the cultural differences made me feel lost sometimes. But at the same time, curiosity toward new things grew and that made me brave just like Alice. New experiences and sensations made me think, feel and act differently. So I produced some experimental bookworks at that time and even I put myself as Alice in my book- that becomes “Alice in Wonderland”. Different locations makes different stories. 


6.      In Alice nel paese delle meraviglie, you deftly appropriate the masterpieces of a few maestros. But aside from it, your works are highly individualized. You used to mention in the interviews before that you’d like to have tea with Michael Sowa and Maira Kalman. After creating art for so many years, is there any other artists that you’d like to have tea and exchange thoughts with? (However, being your IG follower, one has the feeling that your inspiration comes more from life and observing life than from other artists or artistic works! Is that the case?)

- I learned the world of picture books from the masters in the field. They are all my teachers and friends whom I’d like to have a cup of tea with. Thanks for reminding me the names like Michael Sowa and Maira Kalman!- it’s been a while thinking about them. Probably I was attracted by Sowa’s mysteries and black humor, and the liveliness and relaxed attitude of Maira Kalman’s arts at that time.  But my guest list is always changing. Whenever people asked me who is my favorite artists, it’s not easy to answer since it’s changing all the time. I was drawn to Edward Gorey’s dark mood for a while and then fell in love with Shinta Cho’s childlike colors. I love Bruno Munari’s logical graphic works and at the same time, love Gabrielle Vincent’s free lines. Nowadays I am attracted by Korean young artist’s new works and want to know about their worlds having a cup of tea with them. I respect fellow artists and always look for them- I love each artist’s unique perspective on the world we’re living in, together. 


7.      When appreciating your works, the readers cannot help but wonder why the lines and colors can be so vibrant? It’s such a wonderful journey to see a line to bring about a story which entails so many levels of meanings in Lines! Do you cultivate your skills in painting with different media in any specific ways? To train yourself to control your pencil or paintbrush, like the way a pianist practicing musical scales and Bach?

- A simple line drawing can tell you so many things. Every artist has her own favourite way of drawing, but I think I prefer the line drawing that can capture the dynamic movement and the moment of exploding energy of a child. In order to achieve the quality that I’d like to see, I repeat the same drawings many times to find the “one”. For “Lines”, I watched Yuna Kim, the famous Korean skater’s videos on youtube and drew her graceful dance on the ice over and over.

I love the minimal way of expression. When all the elements are minimalized, readers can see the meaning of each element. For example, in “Wave”, the girl’s dress was white (or blank ) in the beginning when she came to the sea, but later it becomes blue. If the picture was described in full color, readers could not promptly notice the change of the color. The tint of blue means the change of her perspective as well as all the event she experienced in the sea was not just a fantasy. 


8.      You used to say that you are a “book artist”. As a book artist, there are many ways to make progresses or experiments. You mentioned that you like the works of Edward Gorey, since his stories are mysterious and enticing. Or, the works of Bruno Munari will cross my mind, because he passionately makes experiments in the forms and possibilities of books. Your border trilogy is one of your feats to be a book artist. Would you please share with us about whether there exist any bottlenecks or difficulties in the process you create the border trilogy? How did you work them out? Also, are there any other goals that you’d like to achieve as a book artist?

- Narratives can come from a form as well as  a literary subject. Since I regarded myself as an visual artist rather than a writer, naturally my interest first lies in art itself, form, or medium. I am making a “picture book”- that means I am dealing with series of “pictures” and “books”.  A book as an art  medium itself has lots of interesting characters. If you’re dealing with books anyway, the elements of the book can be part of the story whether you intend or not. Why is book a quadrangle? Why the pages turning into a certain direction? What about the texture of paper? etc. All of the questions are interesting, but sometimes this kind of questions make readers perplexed. “SUZY LEE- The Border Trilogy” (https://www.corraini.com/en/catalogo/scheda_libro/1409/The-Border-Trilogy) is the book about the thoughts I had when I was working on the three books, “Mirror”, “Wave” and “Shadow”. These three book share the same idea- that the gutter of the book can be the border of fantasy and reality. I start this book introducing my episode that one U.K. bookseller asked me a question. “Is it a printer’s error ?” he asked me about the double spread pages in “Wave” where the girl’s arm is missing in the gutter of the book. Also I once got an enquiring email from a Singaporean bookshop asking if the blank pages in MIRROR is whether the artist’s intention or again, some printing error. I found these episodes very interesting. Maybe some readers have a big question mark on their head reading my books--challenging, but in a sense,  that may be the most creative moment of us!


9.      Korean illustrators have blossomed in the book markets these few years. As a forerunner, do you think there is any transition in the trends of illustration? Do you suppose the readers’ identification with illustration is going through a change in regional and cultural identification? Or do you think that an artist’s life lesson is always involved with her or his self observation and realization?

- Since Korea has relatively short history of picture books, it’s amazing to see how fast the picture book scene changes and the market grows in Korea. I am not very old yet :-) but I sometimes felt quite old whenever I recall the past regarding the picture books- there weren’t many picture books available to read when I was a child, and there weren’t many picture books by Korean author/ artist when I got started my career as an illustrator. Some Korean authors and illustrators even made some kind of social movement to produce and promote the Korean-made picture books in order to provide our own culture to Korean children. And that happened  just only 20-30 years ago, and now as you said, Korean illustrators have blossomed in the field these few years, all over the world. Last week, Korean artist Heena Baek won the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award--that was the most significant event of Korean picture book scene, amazing! If there is some transition in the trends of illustration in Korea, I would say we finally have found that we have various tastes. Just the time when I started illustrating picture books, there was some stereotypes and notions that “Children’s book should be like this”, but as we witnessed, Korean illustrators started building their own world and characteristic and now we have variety of styles and subjects.  


10.  The Coronavirus pandemic recently has forced the world to change. People are forced to isolate themselves temporarily. They are now lonely satellites. At such a critical moment, as a mother and an artist, are there any thoughts or messages that you’d like to share with the children and other artists in this world?

- Actually, my other artist friends said that it’s not quite that different from the days we lived before. (We, the artists, are always self-quarantined ourselves when we’re working. Well, social-distancing is not that unfamiliar term for the artists. ;-) And we used to play alone in our head (that sounds a bit miserable though.) But rather, I think we need to be aware that we’re facing a situation that we’ve never seen before. I was shocked to see almost everybody wears the mask on the road. The grim future that we only saw in sci-fi films has been arrived without any notification. Besides, we cannot meet, cannot touch each other, and it’s regarded to be rude if someone is not wearing a mask. People become aware of the harm from others, and also the harm that can be caused by ourselves. We are going to see many arts and stories about this new situation after this Coronavirus pandemic. It’s not just the situation that we avoid and just wait for passing by but the situation that we need to look into very carefully. Be sensitive, more than ever. 




Thank you!




by 힌토끼 | 2020/04/27 03:57 | 그림책 | 트랙백 | 덧글(2)
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Commented by Luis Girao at 2020/04/27 05:37
Thanks a lot for sharing the interview in English, 작가님~
Commented by 힌토끼 at 2020/05/02 13:43
Thanks, Luis.

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